I am one of few professional bicultural, bilingual women with a STEM-related degree working in public land management -- and I aim to change that.
I’m very blessed and thankful for my education, career and the community I live in. That’s why I volunteer as a mentor and community advocate for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), a non-partisan civil rights organization started in 1929. I feel it is my responsibility to grow the opportunities related to working for and learning from our public lands. Here in the Pacific Northwest, there’s a great connection between the agricultural and recreational industries and public lands, but a poor connection between STEM careers and underrepresented groups.
Where do we begin to make a difference? In place and with our youth.
In January 2016 I reached out to The Intertwine Alliance, LULAC and the Clark County Latino Youth Conference for a conversation about how to make an impact at the ground level with our youth and natural resources in a partnership. Several months later we were hosting a pilot two-day Regional LULAC Youth Conference – Seeds of Future Leadership.
It was perfect alignment, and other community leaders and partners were excited about this opportunity for youth. The U.S. Forest Service, Portland State University, Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service were all on board and provided amazing workshops. The commitment and dedication to give back as professional Latinos working together was invigorating. I want to give particular credit and thanks to the U.S. Forest Service, without whom this important event would not have happened.
And so in June 2016, 50 high school Latino youth from the Portland/Vancouver metro area, Cornelius/Hillsboro area (Oregon), and Pasco/Granger area (Washington) gathered at Portland State University for a day of workshops that included a campus tour.
At the end of the first day, students traveled to Mount St. Helens National Volcano Monument in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest for a no-Wi-Fi overnight experience at the Science and Learning Center.
The second day, students participated in a service learning project, heard from natural resource career professionals, and engaged in conservation education activities delivered by the awesome Mount St. Helens Institute educators.
This two-day event was the first Regional LULAC Youth Conference in the Pacific Northwest focusing on conservation, stewardship and natural resources. The conference focused on building social connections and raising awareness of ways for Latino youth to support their communities and the environment. Leadership skill building, education and career opportunities, and conservation were all explored during the conference.
It was so successful that another is planned in eastern Washington for 2017! It'll be held in the Lower Yakima Valley in June 2017. Anyone interested in helping make these conferences an annual affair, I welcome you to get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Future youth conferences will focus on helping Latino teens explore their sense of place and better understand their ability to impact, shape and nurture their environment at a local level. Giving back to their communities through stewardship, volunteering or choosing a career that supports these values can be a rewarding path for youth who may be unaware of the many opportunities in the Pacific Northwest.
Public lands are all about conservation, stewardship, applied and technical STEM, as well as art. It takes an engineer to design a trail, bridge or road. It takes a hydrologist to ensure our streams are healthy for fish. It takes a biologist to evaluate habitat conditions for fish and wildlife. And it takes a photographer to capture the essence and beauty of the morning sunrise across a pristine lake for the world to see there is calmness.
There are many natural resource fields that need to be included in the STEM conversation, and so it is my duty to work in partnership with others to make a bigger impact -- to inspire, to think outside the box, and to provide opportunities to underprivileged youth.
We have to do this work, as bicultural, bilingual professionals, if we are to build a future of sustainability and balance. This is my place.